What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

The word "forensic" probably makes you think of shows like CSI, but did you know that forensic psychologists exist? This branch of psychology is important in the justice, as it can help answer questions about the mental health of people involved in legal matters.
What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

Last update: 16 August, 2019

Psychology studies the underlying mental processes that determine an individual’s behavior. Forensic psychologists study a branch of psychology that evaluates a subject’s mental capacity in legal matters.

A forensic psychologist is in charge of psychological assessment for prosecutors, judges, and lawyers. Forensic psychologists study the minds of people who get involved with the justice system in one way or another.

 The job of forensic psychologists

Forensic psychologists participate in different legal processes. They collect the necessary information, evaluate the subject, gather data, and then present their evidence and results. They do this to be able to provide responses to the judge’s questions.

A forensic psychologist and a judge.

Their primary role is to try to answer any questions that legal professionals may have. After all, those who work in the justice system don’t know everything. Thus, they call on experts from each field to clarify important elements in different cases.

David Émile Durkheim believed that our society is like a human body, that we’re interdependent just as an arm, a leg, and a head are functionally interdependent but need each other. Similarly, in society, individuals specialize in particular things and share their knowledge with others. There’s a kind of functionally interdependent system between all the different professions.

Where do forensic psychologists work?

As we mentioned before, forensic psychologists work with the justice system. They tend to get involved in criminal processes and focus on criminal law. However, many other disciplines also need forensic psychologists, including:

  • Family law. Forensic psychologists determine if the parents are capable of taking care of their child during a divorce. They also provide orientation about visiting rights, analyze the family dysfunctionalities that might affect the child, etc.
  • Civil law. Here, their primary job is legal competency related to the availability of property.
  • Criminal law. Criminal imputability (if the individual knew what they were doing and acted voluntarily based on that knowledge), effects of violence on the victim, the existence of some kind of disorder, etc.
  • Labor law. Disability, workplace harassment, etc.
  • Minors. Testimony credibility, psychological consequences of certain experiences, etc.

Writing up reports

A forensic pathologist’s report is a legal document that answers the judge’s questions. It’s considered expert evidence. The forensic psychologist has to write a report when they ask their opinion on a legal matter.

The report has to be precise and concrete. It should omit any superfluous details and go directly to the point. It has to be written clearly, be easy to understand, and avoid any very specific jargon. These documents are for laypeople, so they can’t be too technical.

A forensic psychologists's report.

Likewise, the forensic psychologist has to make sure to remain objective and make scientifically sound arguments. Any psychological test that they use must be thoroughly reviewed. They have to indicate the utility of the test and the testing method. They also have to share the results of the tests, the reliability of the results, etc.

Professional profile

If you want to be a forensic psychologist, you need an undergraduate degree in psychology. You also have to specialize in forensic psychology. However, that isn’t quite enough to be able to work as a forensic psychologist. Continuing education is important so you can stay abreast of the latest innovations. You also have to have extensive knowledge of the law and legal processes.

Not everything is based on your academic education, however. Forensic psychologists can’t get emotionally involved in the cases they’re working on. Empathy is also an important trait, as well as a high tolerance for frustration. Assertiveness and good speaking skills will serve you well in the field.

In conclusion, forensic psychology breaks down some of the stereotypes that people have about psychologists from movies and TV shows.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.